My first week not doing my introduction lesson (as in my first week really being at proper school) was supposed to be spent observing. I was told just to observe, my coordinator said he would spread the word that I would only observe. How can I teach or plan lessons for classes I know nothing about. Like with the textbooks how can I even know if they’re on page 8 or page 30 if I don’t watch. But of course everyone doesn’t think that way.
My first class Monday morning went like this: “Do you have anything prepared?” the teacher (who I had never met!? How does this keep happening?!) asked. She introduced herself quickly and then immediately asked what I had prepared.
“No. I was told I could just observe this week.”
“Oh. Okay watch in the back.”
I sat in the back and took notes. It seemed we were learning about feelings. But how far in depth does that go, which ones do they know. Afraid, surprised, angry, mad. But what about embarrassed, shy, hot, cold, tired, sick? I didn’t know. How could I know? 5 minutes later she showed up and handed me a stack of large flashcards. “Ask them.”
I stood up reluctantly. “Ask them what?”
“What? Ask them what?”
“Don’t be afraid. Be brave.” Lady I’ve taught for 3 years I’m not afraid, I’m trying to coteach! What the heck are they learning right now! What is the purpose these flashcards? The picture showed an androgynous child eating popcorn and making a surprised face. The back of the card said “Afraid.”
“Ask them what emotion it is.”
“What emotion is it?” I asked the nearest student.
“No! Ask them “How does the boy or girl feel?” We were practicing, apparently, emotions and also personal pronouns. So the target answer is “He feels ___”
I still didn’t know if this was a girl or boy. “How does the, uh, boy feel?”
“She feels hungry.” The kid said. There was no reason the answer was wrong both because it was androgynous and because it had popcorn.
“No!” the teacher snapped. “She feels afraid.” So it’s a girl.
I walked around asking the children in my vicinity “How does the boy feel?” “How does the girl feel?”
The next class was with the same coteacher who suddenly respected the plan of just observing and didn’t ask me to do this again. Maybe I did it so poorly. Maybe everyone is just crazy like the building and nothing anyone says means anything. I’m genuinely starting to believe this and might start playing the game, too.
She mixed up the lesson a lot. She used the flashcards but also had a spelling game. The “game” worked like this: she said a letter and the student wrote it on the board. At 7 or 8 years old this is actually a game.
“H” she said. E the boy wrote.
“No!” she said more forcefully than I would ever with a little kid. He just smiled blindly up at her.
“AYYYYCCHHHHH. H.” She enunciated slowly. The boy wrote a lowercase a.
“Sit down.” she told him almost disgustedly. Another volunteer came up.
“H” she coached.
The boy proudly wrote a sane sized H and then went to sit down. Game over, right? I mean, no one explained the rules and so far no one had been able to make a sane H.
“Are you done?! There is still more word!”
“Oh!” he hopped up to continue. But he had lost his chance. Another volunteer. This was a cutthroat game.
We got to Happ. What emotion could this be?!
“Y” What!? No way!!!!
We played hangman but because that’s too violent or something we drew a coconut tree with five coconuts and there’s water below it, and a hungry crocodile was coming out of the water. This is certainly the lesser known Coconut Tree with Water and Hungry Crocodile game. When you guessed a letter incorrectly, a coconut was crossed out. The crocodile or water had nothing to do with it other than aesthetics.
The bell rang. Drawing out Coconut Tree with Water and Hungry Crocodile Game takes time.
I headed to a 4th grade class. No one was there. This keeps happening and is basically illegal. I’m not a licensed teacher so there is no reason I would, should, could ever be alone with them. But that crap would happen if I was here or not. They leave elementary kids alone more than you could ever do in the US. Usually classes sit quietly, this time, though, it was serious. Two boys were nearly at each other’s throats in a near fistfight. I sat in the desk impassively. Not my monkeys, not my circus (at least until it’s serious).
A girl approached me, in Spanish she told me that she had some problem with the boys in her vicinity. “Okay” I told her empathetically. Noted.
Another girl approached. “Those two boys are fighting” “I know” I told her.
The room got louder and louder, the near-fight was starting to become a real grabbing and shoving. That was enough.
“Okay everyone sit down.” I said loudly. It was clear a distraction was needed.
“We’re going to play hangman”
“Como?” some kid asked.
“Hangman.” I drew it on the board. Blank stares. For the love of Pete do we really have to do the Coconut Tree with Water and Hungry Crocodile?
I started drawing the blanks where the letters would go. A ripple of understanding rushed through the classroom. It got dead silent. Fight Club kid finally sat down like his peers. Then every hand shot up. Hangman is serious business for the good folks of class 4B.
The word was science. Since this was a science class.
“A” was the first guess. A fine start. “B” was the second guess. We can’t do this in order but at least C is going to work.
Everyone was standing up freaking out “Ooh oh!” “Yo! Yo! (me! me!) “Señor!!” For some reason all my kids call every teacher Señor. They drop the A with their accents.
One student guessed B, again. “B2” I wrote on the board and hung the man further. “Nooo!!!!”
The teacher who should’ve been here 10 minutes arrived and looked relieved I had the kids under control.
We took 5 more minutes to finish the word. “Science!” they shouted. Hurrah!
The teacher didn’t introduce herself but asked what I had prepared.
“I will watch this week and next week I’ll have something ready.”
“You won’t help? I need help this week. I don’t speak English. (she said in English) I went to another classroom, that’s why I was late.” Someone worse than me? Another teacher, an actual Spanish teacher who couldn’t find her way around the school or do anything? We would make a fine pair.
I observed until she couldn’t handle it anymore and gave me a book and told me to read it outloud, slowly. It was about cells and photosynthesis. There was no way anyone really understood it.
“Too fast” the teacher said when she couldn’t understand the last paragraph about cells.
I watched the rest of the class. The kids all took turns reading the Spanish version of the book out loud. It was boring for everyone.
Turns out this woman is the pregnant co-teacher’s substitute. She’s not even a substitute but an art teacher or something who works at this school but happened to have this hour off. So she got roped into science with the Native English Speaker. So there isn’t a substitute, only teachers who have an extra hour of time.
The next class was worse. The woman was a math teacher who didn’t even acknowledge me coming in or sitting in the back. She spent the whole time sitting at the desk just asking random questions to kill time. She was also a “substitute” for the pregnant coteacher who was gone.
“Sooooo … what kind of animals make food?” she said from her desk. The lights were off and her feet were up like it was a big casual thing.
Kids volunteered cow, pig, chicken, etc. She kept asking for more until we were getting philosophical “well do cows really make the cheese? Is it the cow making it?” “An egg doesn’t make food, it is food.”
Running out of this, finally we went student by student to ask which kids have a pet. Good science, right there. We’re not collecting data or learning anything: we’re killing time. We have art and math teachers getting pulled out of their planning period to cover these classes. Then you have me, who is equally unqualified to teach since no one tells me what they’re even learning. What are we learning? No “science” isn’t an answer. What kind of science?! There are 60,000 types. Not to mention the art and math teachers can’t communicate with me so we’ll never actually work together.
I went to find my minder after this boring 45 minutes of watching kids say “dog” or “cow” in Spanish.
“When is the substitute coming?”
“Oh we’re not even looking yet. We’ll start looking in 15 days.”
“Okay. I had a question about how to get the student’s textbooks online.”
“Okay, one more question-” he walked into the men’s bathroom, cutting me off. Screw me for asking questions or caring about the kid’s education I guess. Fine, you don’t care, I don’t care. Don’t care that the kids will be losing over 3 weeks of educational time to farcical situations that would make a kid’s TV show. The Misadventures of the teachers who can’t even talk to each other as they bumble through a subject they aren’t qualified to teach. So they don’t teach it. The end.